Where Is Drone Racing League Headed?

By Matt Swenson, July 19, 2018

The Drone Racing League is going boldly where it’s never gone before. In 2019, all DRL events will be held in front of a live audience.

That was among the biggest news out of the league’s push this week to secure RFPs for next year.

“We have plans to really increase the ‘wow factor’ at our events,” says Ashley Ellefson, Drone Racing League’s director of operations, a 2017 Connect Sports Game Changer.

Founder and CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski always envisioned showcasing the unmanned aerial vehicles competing in front of crowds at unusual venues. The safety concerns present in 2016, the league’s first year, have been resolved.

The 2017 DRL Allianz World Championship at Alexandra Place in London was the first race in front of a live crowd. It took two weeks for 2,000 tickets to sell out. Three events in the 2018 season, yet to be aired on ESPN, also include the live audience experience.

“We’ve worked out the kinks of putting 500 flying robots in the air in an entertaining and consistent and safe way,” Ellefson says.

Crowds of between 3,000 and 8,000 are expected for the 2019 season.

Six sites will be selected out of the global RFP search. Five venues will host two races over a weekend while the sixth will be home to the championship, meaning there will be 11 races next year—a DRL record.

Ellefson says part of the experience will be including education components regarding drone racing’s rapid rise and where the sport is headed.

While many regard DRL to the leader in the sport of the future (along with esports), Ellefson says there are some traditional elements to the league’s plans. Namely, each race will give a sense of place, helping showcase the host destination and venue.

That exposure is one of DRL’s major selling points. The London championship alone garnered 550 press hits totaling 340 million impressions. DRL says its first two televised seasons drew 55 million broadcast viewers, 1.6 million subscribers and 115 million total online video views.

Ellefson hopes DRL will land in Asia and/or Australia as part of its expanded venue search, while remaining in North America and Europe. The 2018 season includes The University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 in Oracle and BMW Welt in Munich, Germany. Traditional stadiums in Miami and Nice, France, have previously been used, too.

DRL is open to long-term agreements with venues and for return engagements. “We’d love to back to Vegas; New Orleans was awesome,” says Ellefson, naming a couple of past partners.

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